Women rights groups and victim advocates expressed outrage on Thursday following reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has plans to weaken federal protections for sexual assault survivors on U.S. campuses—reducing liability for school administrators and increasing protections for accused sexual predators.
The proposed rules, first reported by The New York Times, narrow the definition of sexual harassment to mean "unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity."
Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), responded by saying the new rules turn the "government's response to assault, harassment, and rape upside down," and gave the name "See No Evil Betsy DeVos" to the secretary.
"Under the Obama guidelines, schools could rely on the lowest standard of proof, or the 'preponderance of evidence' when deciding whether or not an alleged perpetrator should be punished for sexual misconduct," Van Pelt explained. "But in Betsy DeVos’ upside-down land, schools could decide which level of evidence to rely on when investigating misconduct, narrow the definition of sexual harassment, and only be accountable for complaints which are formally filed."
Citing statistics that one in four women are sexually assaulted while attending college, including estimates that 90 percent go unreported, Karin Roland chief campaigns officer for UltraViolet, said that while women face a "national rape epidemic" on U.S. campuses, "Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration care more about protecting perpetrators and sexual abusers over sexual assault survivors. This policy is extremely dangerous and beyond shameful."
The new rules, Roland added, "further protect abusers in a system that is already rigged in their favor. With sexual assaults routinely going unreported, uninvestigated and unpunished, these new rules will only make campuses less safe."